March 14, 2011 12:26pm PT by Jay A. Fernandez
SXSW: Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Kristen Wiig Premiere 'Paul'
Greg Mottola, Simon Pegg, Kristen Wiig and Nick Frost (wearing a UT jersey) introduced their new film Paul from the Paramount Theatre stage Sunday night to a highly enthusiastic audience eager for some geek comedy. The film -- and the Q&A -- delivered on that.
An amusing ode to Comic Con nerds and sci-fi fans, the movie played very well, with audience members gasping at the appearance of certain actors (I won't ruin them) and laughing uproariously at the sci-fi cinema in-jokes. These included visual, musical or verbal references (or all three) to the first Star Wars trilogy, Aliens, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, the Indiana Jones films, Cocoon, Back to the Future, Starman, Total Recall, E.T., Predator, The X-Files and more. There are also a few line recitations from previous films repurposed for Paul that floored people.
One of my favorite lines is Frost’s shocked resistance to Paul’s offer to implant his full extraterrestrial knowledge in Frost’s brain: “No spoilers!”
There’s also a kind of cameo from Steven Spielberg that, to the writer-stars’ astonishment, was an idea that came from the man behind Close Encounters and E.T. himself. Pegg stars in Spielberg’s forthcoming The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn, and one day on set, Pegg said, he showed Spielberg a jokey picture he had taken of an alien bust next to Devil’s Tower. In talking about Paul, Spielberg then suggested that perhaps he was in contact with Paul during the alien’s many years of captivity at Area 51 and had picked his brain for ideas during his early sci-fi filmmaking. Pegg and Frost were gobsmacked by the offer.
One glaring omission, given the film’s set-up, was any humor derived from alien sex. Other than one quick flash to Paul humping something on a mountaintop during a mind-meld montage, Pegg and Frost declined to include any exploration of this in their script. During the Q&A they acknowledged that they did have one long monologue from Paul about how everyone on his planet is bisexual and Earth humans are way too uptight about it, but it got trimmed down to one line in the finished film. It seems to me that having a smoking, cursing, bawdy alien with the voice and attitude of Seth Rogen and not using it for anything but a single anal probe joke seems like a terrible missed opportunity.
Rogen was shot during rehearsals in motion capture gear to get his movements for the VFX crew and work through the script. On set during filming, co-star Joe Lo Truglio, who plays a law enforcement guy with deep geek cred, did Rogen’s lines with the other actors and improvised a lot. Rogen later re-recorded any lines that made it into the final cut.
Mottola, who directed the film, had his Adventureland play at SXSW in 2009. During the Q&A, Pegg said that he and Frost had first started kicking around the idea for Paul while they were making Shaun of the Dead in 2004. He then joked that they went to Mottola because, “We wanted to make Daytrippers—but with an alien instead of Liev Schreiber.”
Oddly, the film’s before-party at Shakespeare’s Pub on Sixth was sponsored by Maxim, though none of the girls on display had three breasts (a running joke from the film). The filmmakers, however, would be happy to provide a second Paul.
“If we do well next week,” said Pegg, “maybe you’ll see Pauls.”